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Could It Happen Here? The View of the U.S. Capitol From Israel

By Joel Dzodin

Where were the Washington, D.C. police on January 6? They were very much in evidence when it came to Vietnam protesters in 1969
Where were the Washington, D.C. police on January 6? They were there for Vietnam protesters in 1969

Like millions of others around the world, I spent Wednesday night in Israel glued to the computer screen, incredulous at the scenes of mayhem unfolding at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C,, and aghast at the abject and inconceivable demagoguery of the American President. Even the excesses and outrages committed by Donald Trump and his Administration over the past four years didn't prepare me for the pictures of anger and malevolent rampage being broadcast around the world.

Both local and international media conveyed the unbelievable images as they unfolded to Israelis, against the backdrop of the upcoming trial of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges. The country faces the imminent prospect of a fourth national election within a two-year period, after the previous three failed to lead to a stable and workable government.

Confronted with the necessity of dealing with the new Biden Administration, there is great concern among right-wing politicians that relations between Israel and the United States might return to the icy days that prevailed during the Obama era. They are apprehensive that Netanyahu's continuing program of expanding settlements in the contested West Bank will be much less palatable to the incoming Biden Administration, which will likely include many people who served under Barack Obama.

The specter of what occurred in Washington this week is also causing some Israelis to wonder if a similar assault by Netanyahu's right-wing base could also happen here. In a Haaretz news analysis column this week by Amos Harel, parallels are drawn between Trump’s ability to mobilize and even to weaponize, his loyal supporters and what Netanyahu or his supporters might be tempted to do:

“The daily deluge of coronavirus news was shunted aside Wednesday night by the unbelievable scenes in Washington. What had initially looked like another cluster of nut-job conspirators outside the White House became, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s speech, a Bastille-type assault on the Capitol. Insufficient, failed preparedness on the part of the security forces, despite the sensitive timing of the ratification of the results of the presidential election, enabled hundreds of rioters to burst into the building, stop the proper functioning of American government and threaten the safety of the elected officials... It Can’t Happen Here is the title of a well-known novel published by American author Sinclair Lewis in 1935. The dystopian plot is about an American dictator’s rise to power in the period that European countries were beginning to adopt fascism. Trump and his followers were apparently blocked overnight on Wednesday, and it is very possible that the events at the Capitol were the last dangerous but pathetic move of his time in office. However, Israelis who watched the events during the night, glued to CNN (the Israeli networks hardly bothered at all), apparently could not help but ask themselves whether similar scenes also await us here in the future... The more palpable the danger of his imprisonment becomes; the more Netanyahu is fanning the flames here in a way that is quite similar to the way his American friend did it.”

With impeachment hearings potentially beginning this week, the situation is quite fluid. We here in Israel, along with the rest of the world, will be watching.


Joel Dzodin is a former Detroiter now living in Israel. At different points in his life he has worked as an archaeologist, an IT Help Desk guy, and an online English teacher to adults around the world. Photography has long been a major passion and theme in his life, since taking his first photos at the age of 6, using a Kodak box camera. A lot of Joel’s photographs focus on the small unexamined details of everyday life, such as the beauty of minute water condensation that forms on cold bottles in the hot Israeli weather.

During Joel’s time in Israel, he has been fortunate to photograph the activities of the NGO PeacePlayers International, Middle East, witnessing firsthand how authentic friendships can be forged between Jews and Arabs despite long-standing and severe religious, cultural and ideological barriers. He is an inveterate hoarder of technological antiques, so that his young children once referred to his home office as "The NASA Control Room."

One of Joel’s major pleasures during normal times is to wander the fields and trails of Israel, stumbling over prehistoric and historic evidence of previous human settlement. During the pandemic, he has had to occupy himself at home by shooting portraits of ants and spiders also sheltering in place, using a mid-1970s Nikon close-up lens adapted for today's digital cameras.

Today, Joel lives near Tel Aviv with his wife Susanne, whom he met on a kibbutz in 1975. They have two adult children, one living in the U.S. and the other in Israel. During the current (second) lockdown, he has to practice social distancing outside with his three grandchildren, two of whom are already speaking English.



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